“I believe I am a custodian of something that is much bigger than myself, which is ‘Meet the Press.’”
On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, NBC News Political Director and “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd talks about how he’s evolving what it means to be the host of the longest-running series in TV history.
You can listen to the entire interview here or in the audio player above. Below, we’ve also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Recode Radio presents Recode Decode, coming to you from the Vox Media podcast network. Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode. You may know me as the host of “Tweet the Press,” but in my spare time I talk tech, and you’re listening to Recode Decode, a podcast about tech and media’s key players, big ideas and how they’re changing the world we live in. You can find more episodes of Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to your podcasts, or just visit recode.net/podcasts for more.
Today in the red chair, I’m so happy to finally get Chuck Todd. He’s the moderator of “Meet the Press” and the political director at NBC News. He’s been in that role for nearly 11 years, having previously worked at The Hotline, a political briefing published by the National Journal. Chuck, welcome to Recode Decode.
Chuck Todd: I’m happy to be here. I already have a fake news issue with you. You said “red chair”?
I know, I’m sorry, that’s the … We use that as a metaphorical thing, you know, we put people in the hot seat. I can’t carry that red chair with me, it weighs a ton and it costs an enormous amount of money to use, so just imagine you’re in the red chair.
I’ll imagine and it’ll feel like a red chair.
Yeah, it’s a good red chair, a lot of people have sat in it.
Yeah, I think Steve Jobs liked it, Bill Gates liked it.
You shouldn’t make a hot seat comfortable, though.
Yeah. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t like it so much, but that’s okay. We had an issue with him, but he tried very hard.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about you. So, I’m here in Washington, this has been another enormous week. We’re gonna get to the politics soon, but I think it would be really interesting to let people get an idea who you are. Obviously you’re so well known, and now since the focus is on politics this year/end of last year, a lot of people that cover politics are getting incredibly well known. Talk about your background. You started off just as a political junkie, or what were you doing?
Look, I sorta got into politics … I can tell you when I sort of thought of it as just a fun thing to follow … Eighth grade, I needed to pick a book to read, my dad said “Why don’t you do ‘Profiles in Courage’?”
Right, John Kennedy.
So he hands me “Profiles in Courage” and I get enamored, in particular there’s one story I’m enamored with which is the Andrew Johnson chapter about one … and it was just sort of, all of it, the story of the senator that crosses party lines, because he decides, “As much as I don’t like Andrew Johnson, we can’t do this to the presidency, we shouldn’t throw him out of office.” And I got in then, sort of got into the history of having reverence for our system.
That was a book about different …
About different people … The whole point of it, of the book that may or may not have been written by John Kennedy, right?
But it’s singling out, obviously, elected officials who made tough decisions. Who basically went against whatever the popular opinion was for their party and stuff like that. It was a whole book like that.
Yeah, designed to give John Kennedy gravitas.
It obviously was his … And now of course anybody runs for president tries to write their book that’s just like it.
Has to have one. Right.
And then I had a cousin who lived with us for a summer while working on a campaign in Florida. I grew up in Miami. That summer my father and him, my cousin was a big liberal, my father was a big conservative, and they just got drunk and argued politics every night. I was there to facilitate the alcohol, the espresso, and just soaked it in.
And was it a civil argument?
Yes. They were just having the best time, and they bonded like father and son type of thing. He became very close … I was just mesmerized by it all. From there I was determined …
What was the topic, do you remember the topic?
It was everything. It would be about … My dad was curious about the campaign, it was the campaign he was working on was … Back then in Florida every statewide cabinet post was an elected post. They’ve now gotten rid of that, they now just have what’s called a chief financial officer. But we used to elect an ag person, insurance commissioner, education commissioner …
So you care about every one of these.
I think Ohio still does it this way, California has a bunch of them. So they would end up being national … This was the mid ’80s, so it ran contra, I think they were fighting about … You know, my dad making a case why Reagan was a good president, I think my cousin, you know, why he’s an idiot, whatever, that conversation. But civil and smart. And I just soaked it in. It was from then on I thought, “I wanna get to Washington.”
“This is what I want.” Right.
So when I applied for college I made sure I sent all my SAT scores to every college in the D.C. area. G.W., American, Georgetown, even George Mason. Then I discovered where George Mason was. No offense, George Mason, you’re too far away. Like, where the hell is Fairfax?
Then I realized the only way I was gonna be able to pay for college — my dad died when I was 16, and we had some financial issues. So the only way I was going to pay for college was on a music scholarship. I played the French horn.
The French horn?
I wasn’t bad at it, I was good enough to at least use it to get a music scholarship. Then I narrowed it down because G.W. was the only school in D.C. that allowed for a double major in music and political science.
Being in the same school. That was how focused I was on coming to Washington and knowing that’s what I wanted.
The French horn, god, Chuck Todd …
I wasn’t thinking journalism. I thought, “I wanna run a campaign.”
Not run yourself?
Nope. No, I never thought about it as myself.
Why is that?
It felt phony, it felt like I had to be somebody I wasn’t at that time. I spend a lot of time in speeches now lamenting the lack of good people running for office. Any time I talk to a crowd I always say, “If you’re here, you’re obviously interested and concerned about American politics, because you’re at least curious enough to hear whatever I have to say. If you don’t like the people running, part of the problem is good people don’t run.” So, I have thought about what would 22-year-old me had heard that differently.
You could run now, Chuck.
Now I wouldn’t at all because I think the credibility of the press is too important. I actually think … I remember being very upset when Jay Carney went …
To Amazon. Oh, when he went to the White House and then to Amazon.
No, went into the White House from Time. Jay Carney should do what Jay Carney wants to do, but I remember being upset because I knew that it was symbolically going to reinforce this notion that this is a revolving door between the press and the powerful, No. 1.
That this is the waystation. It happens in Silicon Valley a lot.
And No. 2, oh and of course it’s for a democratic administration.
Yeah, a very good reporter just did that, I was surprised.
I’ve made the decision, I went down the path of journalism. I’m not going back.
I’m with you, I was offered jobs at early Amazon, early Google, very early. Multi-billion dollar stupid decisions on my part.
Look, everybody has to make the best decision for them. I know people that stumbled into journalism, but really their goal is to be in public service. Nothing wrong, good. There’s a lot of people who have done it. I guess my feeling is you go through the door once. You know, I did work in a campaign when I was 19 while at G.W..
Whose was it?
Working on Tom Harkin’s presidential campaign.
Oh, really? What’d you do?
That’s like Bates stamping.
What’s so funny is now of course the only reason people know about it is, I’ve disclosed it. What’s always funny is people are like, “Oh, Chuck Todd was top aid to Tom Harkin.” Tom Harkin still to this day doesn’t know I worked for him!
Doesn’t know who you are, yeah.
When I say FEC compliance, I mean I literally … The checks would come in, I had to enter it in, what their employee numbers … By the way, how I learned how the FEC worked to this day has helped me be a better campaign finance reporter, for what it’s worth. Then they decided I was trustworthy enough to be the guy that went to the bank to deposit the checks, okay?
Wow, that’s a big role you played, and such a successful campaign.
My favorite moment is, he gets out of the race, and I’m the last paid employee because you still have to do FEC compliance.
Oh, so you’re there just doing the checks.
I remember going, “All right, I’ll just take this back to my dorm room.” I’m thinking, I have a whole bunch of presidential records, technically, in my dorm room as a sophomore at G.W..
If you had dropped the ball you could have had all kinds of problems.
Could have created all sorts of problems for Tom, for Harkin, could have created a huge scandal for him and everything.
I don’t even remember him. I worked for Senator S.I. Hayakawa.
Oh, one of the best names!
Sleeping Sam. I kept him awake during press events. That was my job, like poking him with a stick, essentially.
What’s funny is, literally, I take three months, that is the extent of what I did in campaign politics.
But you didn’t … so you went … Where did you go? You went right into journalism.
And then I ended up doing an internship at this thing called The Hotline back in early ’92. I always say Tom Harkin ran for president, he intended to run for president in ’92 but it was really the ’91 Harkin campaign. I started interning there, it was a paid internship, everything I had to do was paid, it was the only way I could finish … I mean, I didn’t get a full scholarship to G.W. so I was always living paycheck to paycheck, to just keep afloat. The Hotline, there was nothing like it at the time. We were the internet before the internet.
Yep, I remember The Hotline was a big deal.
Here we were in 1992 and here I was at a nexus of political information, nobody had more. That was it. That was very early.
That was early. Where did you distribute?
I remember we distributed … We had our own bulletin board service. You dialed in and downloaded us.
You have to, right, yep.
We were on the CompuServe exchange, in fact there was a time when we had to be a specific … We couldn’t be over a certain number of characters.
Yeah, CompuServe was IBM and Sears. I used to call it everything Sears knew about computing and everything IBM knew about retail. It was a really terrible service.
What I remember is we had a whole closet just with 200 modems. So people, when it was busy … took about 20 minutes to download The Hotline.
So it downloaded like a newsletter. Like an email newsletter, essentially. I forgot.
Except it took 20 minutes. No, we did it by fax, and we hand-delivered them around town.
And there were all those political reports. Charlie Cook had one, they all had them and they were …
They all had ’em but we were the only one that was every day. And they were monthly, they were quarterly.
Quarterly or weekly, some of them were weekly.
We were the first ones to prove every day. It was the brainchild of this guy Doug Bailey, who is now deceased, and he started in ’87 because he thought, “There’s no way that professional press corps is gonna keep up with 13 legitimate presidential candidates.” Because 1988 was the first time in 20 years that we were gonna have an open presidential seat. There was no either sitting or incumbent running. So it was like this going to be the first time of this new modern press corps. Look, out of that campaign, Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes” is written based on the ’88 campaign. It was this idea that there’s no way the Washington Post can cover 13 legitimate candidates.
And they did it in the traditional way, the instant information was not … People forget about that.
I actually think we’re … For everyone who complains about Axios, Politico and Twitter, maybe you should blame us at The Hotline. We created this idea that you needed this information daily, let alone hourly.
Right, instant information. And before it was kind of a whisper network where people knew … or phone calls, essentially. It’s not that long ago, people forget.
My first beat was House races in ’92. And I call it the crime beat of politics, like if you wanna learn how to cover presidential politics? Go cover House races.
Absolutely, so you know every district and everything else. So Hotline then went to the National Journal?
Hotline goes … We get bought by National Journal, and we had this crazy idea …
Do you remember how much? Your little modem service?
We made same money, the owners had some money. But it was for some debt, too.
But this was pre-AOL, pre-cellphone, pre-everything.
The whole reason National Journal bought us, we got into a partnership to start a website for the ’96 campaign.
Because Netscape was out by then.
It was called Politics USA. National Journal wanted to be with us because we knew how to do something every day, and National Journal had “The Almanac of American Politics.” So my great contribution that first year is I physically digitized the almanac. Paragraph by paragraph, I coded the almanac. I remember I did it while … I had just moved from Colorado … Long story. Personal. You know, we all chase people every once and a while, I may have chased somebody and I lost. I end up back here kinda needing work, and so that’s what I did. I coded the almanac.
Then we get into a partnership. Washington Post, Newsweek and ABC decide they wanna start a political website. And then suddenly we say, “Wait a minute, guys, let’s not compete, let’s join forces.” So then Politics Now happens and it’s the Post, Newsweek, ABC and National Journal. We’re the four …
And everyone was dipping in, and it still was super early because Netscape had just gone public in ’94, the early internet was very early. Again, AOL was the name of the game and they had a lot of politics on there.
In ’96 I hosted chats, I remember this, I did these little chats for Politics Now and I remember doing one with McCain and I remember doing one with a couple others. We would open it up to questions and the only time we ever got traffic is when the Libertarian became nominated for president. It was whenever we posted him.
Because these people were all using …
The only people that were engaged in politics on the internet in ’96 were Libertarians.
Which is astonishing to think about, the absolute change.
Well, the tech world is Libertarian in its core.
Largely, yes. I call it Libertarian-lite, but we can get into that later.
But it was always fascinating: If there was political activism on the net in ’96 it was all about Harry Brown, that was who the nominee was.
It was the Well and the way they were communicating. So you really were an early techie, that was a very early time.
It’s the single most important break I caught. ’Cause what I describe about ’96 …
’Cause nobody … You wouldn’t have gotten hired by the Washington Post, or blank blank blank.
Correct. And here’s what happened, all of the sudden needed content. And everybody assumed, well, Howard Fineman of Newsweek and Dan Balz of the … And David Bird of the Washington Post, and Hal Bruno and ABC, none of them thought the internet was worth their time.
Hated it. I worked at the Washington Post, you know. I could not convince them, it was exhausting after a while and I left.
None of them thought it was … They just didn’t have time.
Because they wrote columns, there were the big columns, there were those who were huffing and puffing.
So this 24-year-old kid gets the opportunity … I was the polling guy, I started handicapping races, I was doing everything that … It was like, “Really? You’re paying me to do this now?” And it’s the single thing I try to tell myself every time I roll my eyes about Snapchat. I always say to myself, “Dan Balz or Howard Fineman …”
“Don’t be that guy.”
And I single out Dan, Dan I think is one of actually the most tech-savvy journalists of his generation.
But the group was like that.
But it was groupthink then. I always say, “I don’t wanna get caught being the guy that looked down.”
It wasn’t groupthink, it was actually worse than groupthink, it was absolute ignorance of what was happening. It was hostile, actually, when I put my email at the bottom of my stories the Washington Post, they were like, “Why do you wanna do that, why do you wanna hear from readers?” I’ll never forget that. Same thing going to the Wall Street Journal when I was covering the early internet. They were like, “This is gonna be a CB radio.” They called it CB radio.
Oh I remember the CB radio shots. People take pot shots at CB radio.
Yeah, it’s just … Oh, what do you do? I’m like, “This is not like breaker one,” whatever the hell the breaker …
People thought your AOL IM thing was gonna … Now that actually is … I think we can say AOL instant messenger was the CB radio of tech, how ’bout that?
It was, but it led to other things. It’s sort of like saying the early Apple versions of the Newton were wrong, or there’s all kinds of versions of the iPhone that happened before the iPhone. All lead to it. And the people who worked on it, like the guy who created a lot of the stuff for Google and mobile Android worked on all the broken versions before it. And the guy who sort of … One of the inventors of the iPod worked on all the broken versions and then he …
Hey, even Zune has a feature that iPod didn’t.
No, no, we can’t …
No, no, I can remember the one time I was jealous of the Zune.
All right, you wanna get the Zune …
I’ll give you one. We were on with a couple friends of ours, she had a Zune! And I went, “I didn’t know anybody owned a Zune!” Right?
This was at the time of iPod and she didn’t have the iPod, she had the Zune.
She went Zune, I went …
The brown Zune.
She lived in Seattle so she felt loyal to Microsoft. She actually did, she said.
Right. Oh, man.
She bought the Zune and the thing she lorded over us: “Well, I can delete a song.” And at the time it did drive me crazy. At the time they hadn’t figured out a way for you, once you downloaded a song, that you couldn’t get rid of it on your device.
That’s because Steve Jobs knew you didn’t need to delete. There was so much space. And Bill Gates was obsessed with space.
I know. But I remember being, “Oh god, I do wish I coulda had that feature.” But that was it. Now we have that feature.
But you didn’t want that feature, that Zune was literally … One time Walt Mossberg was showing it to Steve Jobs once and he actually put it in his hand and he dropped it because he was physically repulsed by it.
It was an ugly thing, it was ugly.
He did it dramatically. It was the worst object ever created, everything Microsoft does in those technologies was terrible, I’m not sure what happened. I’d always look at it and think, “Okay, the opposite is what will work.” So you were kind of a techie, kind of a nerd!
No, I always say this.
What was your first phone?
I caught that break, and you know what’s interesting after that is, they did learn we were really proud of what we’d done and we thought, “Oh we’re gonna keep doing this.” And then of course what happened was come 1997, the Washington post says, “Oh this worked out!” so they hire a third of the staff and start washingtonpost.com. ABC says “Yeah!” and they hire a third and start ABCnews.com. Then the rest of us went back to National Journal and we started to try to do what we did.
All right, when we get back we’re gonna talk with Chuck Todd, who is now a very famous broadcast personality in Washington, D.C., about how he got onto broadcast. Because he’s mostly a nerd at this point, which I’m awfully surprised about … When we get back.
I’m here with Chuck Todd, he is NBC’s “Meet the Press” impresario, if that’s … You can call it whatever you want. Head of the show, you run the show, you’re on every week. You’ve been talking about sort of background that had a lot to do with the nascent internet and people getting information instantly about politics, which has been the perfect topic for the internet. Never more so than now. One of them, entertainment is another one. But politics really is one of the linchpins of communications on the internet and content on the internet.
I remember the very first time I went online, my father wanted to see a stock ticker.
Oh, stocks were another thing.
I remember we had an Apple 2c, and I had to figure it out. I was like 13 or 14 and I remember hooking it up and we did it, but it was like, okay, but this costs $30 for every half hour. Like it was some absurd amount. But I feel like the stock people were …
Yeah, the stock … Pornographers … Yeah, I had a whole chapter in my book about AOL.
Pornographers are always first. Pornographers are first, they’re the true leading indicators.
And then stocks, gambling, politics.
Absolutely, which all belong together, really. Sex, stocks, gambling and politics.
So how’d you get to broadcast, then? You’re in an area where you could’ve done a lot of things in the internet space.
Look, I was pretty content. 1997 is when I joined NBC. I had just sort of recalibrated, I was working at this time for David Bradley. Still part of National Journal, but at this point David Bradley, who’s an individual billionaire here in … At least a lot of people know him.
Oh I know David, the lovely David, elegant.
One of the great gentlemen of Washington.
He really is.
Once you make a friendship with him, you have a friend for life. He’s that kind of guy. I was working for him, he owned us. He had just bought the Atlantic, and we were in the middle of all these incredible brainstorms about what we were gonna do to transform the Atlantic, take everything we’d been learning from National Journal and The Hotline.
Right, but you had a lot of data. That was critical about the net, and politics, was data. The amount of data.
No doubt, and I had just sort of committed to basically helping build the digital side of the Atlantic, helping to build the Atlantic at the time, how we were all gonna do that together, outside of a paywall. Like, we were the paywall kings of Hotline at that point, but this was about proving that there was a market outside of Washington.
And then all of the sudden Politico pops up, and I was ready to go, I’m like, “Great.” And I was ready to transform Hotline into a competitor of Politico. Then Tim calls me up, they need a political director, Russert … And I had just signed a contract with David … What I thought was a very generous contract. And I was happy. I was like, I had autonomy, I was basically getting to run a business without having the burden of owning it, and my own risk, that’s how I felt, that type of empowerment.
Right. So you’re not entrepreneurial, or are you entrepreneurial?
I constantly wanna start things. So yes …
But other people’s money.
Yes, I learned from David, in this idea of seven-year runs. David believes life is filled with seven-year runs. I’m in the middle of a second seven-year run in my head at NBC. You know we’ll see, sometimes you do a third or sometimes you do another seven-year run at something. And so I was pretty content, and I thought, “Y’know … I don’t know.” And I said, “I probably … I just signed a contract.” It just felt disloyal. So I said, “You know what, I don’t wanna interview.” But I was thrilled that they’d asked because, I’ll be honest, a year earlier I was thinking about leaving. And CBS needed a political director and I was trying to just get an interview over there, I couldn’t get an interview.
Right. And Tim Russert was king.
Tim was king. And then I literally slept on it over a weekend and I’m like, “I’m really gonna regret watching somebody else do that job.” So I call ’em back and I end up accepting … I accepted the job, he offered it, I accepted on the day Obama announced, because we were on the phone together watching Obama’s announcement from Springfield when I agreed to do it. So I will always remember it was Saturday, February 10th, that’s when he made the official offer, that’s when I said yes.
And did you see yourself as a broadcast personality?
Never. In fact, I felt like I was being hired more as an off-air.
Expertise, right, yeah.
And he said, “Look, MSNBC is starting to use do more politics, you’ll probably do some TV.” And I had already been doing some TV then as a Hotline … Doing all of them, you know, all the bits.
The cable had started.
Right, the cable circuit back then was just beginning. And I thought, okay, that’s interesting. Never imagined … I didn’t see where this was going. Did I think, well, maybe bureau chief, or … you know what I mean? Like who knew? Like I never … This was not something … It was like, “Working with Tim is gonna be fun!”
Right, it was coverage.
Then all of a sudden I stumble into television. I remember when I got offered to be chief White House correspondent, I said, “I’ve never been a correspondent. I’ve never worked at a local affiliate.” Like, in my head I’m going, “What are you guys thinking? You know I’m not a TV person.”
Yeah, a lot of people work hard to move their way up to that. You stood up on the lawn once.
Yeah … You did?
No, I never did, I woulda killed myself.
And I’m sitting here going, “I don’t have the hair …” Like I just didn’t feel like I was TV worthy. But then I said, “How do you turn this down?” It’s a historic presidency, the first African-American president, and, you know, here I am.
How did you like covering the White House? Because I found that to be a trap for a lot of people.
I say the greatest job title is “Former White House Correspondent.”
Right, because it’s a prison. I worked there as an intern.
Savannah and I, we took the prison metaphor. We used to joke, Robert Gibbs was the foreman. Because he decided when we had to be there or not. We had our desk at NBC decided … Told us what time we could come home, we were basically on work release, you know? We always were inside that fence, but we got to go home to sleep and have dinner. But we had to be at that fence at 7:00 a.m.
Did you also feel like you were fed the news? Because things changed, things have changed somewhat dramatically because of the internet in terms of so many people.
Every story I broke in the White House came from outside the White House. Not a single … In fact, I had to sometimes physically leave the White House to get news on the White House. Now, that said: Being there still is important. I remember sometimes you just …
The most important thing for a White House reporter is not to be there when everybody says, from 9 to 5. The best times to be at the White House and have access to it are from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m., or from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. Because that’s when you actually run into people who are in charge of running the country.
Right, exactly. But I always find that you become sort of … What’s interesting is most of the interesting stuff has started to come from the outside, and it creates this …
But that’s been the case for years.
Yes, it has, but it’s more so than ever before.
I mean, I would not think that that would be the beat that everybody would want now.
I tell everybody Capitol Hill’s still the best beat.
Right, because you can just run around.
The problem is, there’s still prestige that comes with it. And, look, I’ve been to 70 countries because of that job. And, yes, sometimes I’m there superficially; I’m there in an organized conference; I’m there for a bilateral meeting; I’m there for … But that’s experience that has benefited me in this job. Put it this way: I never would have been successful at “Meet the Press” had I immediately done it in 2009.
Right, so you did that for a while and then took over from David, which was sort of an ugly departure, essentially, from …
I have a theory on all television, and I quote, and I say this to comfort myself. There’s a quote in the movie “Cocktail”: “Everything ends badly, or else it wouldn’t end.”
You love “Cocktail”? I can’t believe you love “Cocktail,” I’ve seen it 26 times. Oh that’s right, when he’s leaving her, when she’s like, “I don’t want this to end badly.”
Right. That’s television. Every exit is over-covered. Everything is … Because of the gossip columns that love to just cover people that are on TV, whatever it is, there’s just … The fact that the awkward aspect that news executives have all this power over very wealthy talent, and it creates these … I don’t know what it is, but most exits are ugly. It’s rare when they’re not. Johnny Carson, Tom Brokaw.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s true.
I hate to say it.
What’s interesting about it, I covered it just a little bit because a lot of broadcast people are moving to the internet, and back and forth, and whenever I deal with a network person I’m fascinated by the level of bile in terms of … Like pointless bile, it doesn’t really help the story. It’s not as if you’re covering Uber or something where there’s actual real problems.
I had one executive trying to get me to write that someone was an “anchor monster.” And I was like, “Well, can I put that on the record with your name?” “Of course not!” Well then I’m not using it, obviously. But others would, I was thinking, of course people would.
I don’t envy network executives, because it is talent management. But you know, I’ll go back to something … David Bradley said something once and I’ve given this advice to my bosses in the past, I said, “Talented people are difficult to manage, or else they wouldn’t be talented.”
Right, although I would argue with that. I delivered mail at the Washington Post and the most talented people were the loveliest. They absolutely were.
I think as peers, that’s true. The talented people are the ones that are difficult to tell what to do, because they’re like, “Well wait a minute!” Because they’re the ones that are gonna say …
Because they’re creative.
That’s right, they’re creative and they think 17 different other ways you could do this smarter and better.
So, think 17 different ways of what it’s like to be on broadcast television, now. I wanna get, sort of set the scene. I know things have changed really dramatically, but how is it to be in a broadcast position? And we’ll get to Trump in a minute. I’m loving that we’re not really talking about Trump that much, but I do want to get to current politics. But how do you see it shifting …
I just hope people haven’t been bored by my stories.
No, not at all! They’re fascinating.
I don’t know.
I’ll handle the content on this one. So, how do you feel being on a national show? Because I watch your show — and I do watch, because I’m a bit of a political junkie. But I get so much news elsewhere, and I already have formed opinions, and “Meet the Press” used to be the only place you got it. “Meet the Press,” or any of the other shows, but “Meet the Press” was the leader.
I don’t want the word “was” in there. But anyway …
It’s changed so dramatically, how we get our information. How do you look at your job, having gotten through …
I entered this job with believing that my No. 1 goal was to … Look, I believe I am a custodian of something that is much bigger than myself, which is “Meet the Press.” When you’re the oldest show in television history, period, you know. And it has sort of a … It stands for an idea, so I’m aware of that. The idea of Sunday shows, for instance, what you just said, I didn’t want it to atrophy.
And they have, certainly.
I think they were. And I actually will make the case that they’re not, but I have been mindful of this since my single greatest goal as the current moderator is to think of “Meet the Press” as a Sunday show. That “Meet the Press” is, really, an idea. And there’s a “Meet the Press” mindset that can go to documentary filmmaking, there’s a “Meet the Press” mindset to podcasts, there’s a “Meet the Press” mindset to cable, there’s a … But the point is that it is not about one hour on a Sunday morning, it is bigger than that, and I think for its own survival. Because if you look at the media landscape, the first media entities to die were weeklies. Okay? Monthlies have found some life because we’re in a, “Oh, I’m so saturated, I wanna … I want the long-form.”
Yes, because they hate long-form, or … Yeah, long-form.
And obviously daily has survived, but weekly has been … I mean, I think the hardest job in journalism right now is Time magazine. I don’t know how you do it. Like how do you stay relevant? It’s impossible.
It shall not. It’s been a long slow fall down the stairway.
Yeah, it’s impossible. So, I was mindful of this, that is why … I’m not even in this job four years, I’ve got a daily cable show, it didn’t happen before, we now have a podcast, we just did this film festival. The goal being, frankly, I wanna be in the documentary. Making business, why shouldn’t we be?
Right, why not?
But also why shouldn’t we become a production house for all these great political documentaries? So, because I want the “Meet the Press” umbrella to stand for something more than just an hour on Sundays. What’s interesting is, if you actually look at the trends of broadcast news, there is one genre that’s growing in raw numbers: It’s Sunday. And I have a theory as to why. One is, the morning and the evening daily are general news.
This is cable.
Right? Even on cable, too, but it’s constant, you’re getting all this. I think there is this sense of the saturation … You say, “Oh, I already know everything that’s going on.” I see our job now on Sunday morning as basically explaining to people what mattered and what didn’t. Okay? That we’re here to sort of … I assume the average viewer is not you, actually, right now, if you’re the junkie. It’s that next level down: A well-read person who has a life, who isn’t watching cable every night and isn’t watching cable every morning.
Although cable has hijacked your format.
Cable has hijacked the format and dumbed it down, the same discussion stuff, the screaminess …
It can be. I think it has sort of taken what worked on Sunday and they did it in repetitive motion to the point where I actually think we’ve tried to change the model a little bit.
It’s pointless. Yeah.
I take your point there.
So I think that now the viewers look to us for that, and I also have tried to change the interview style a little bit. So for instance, if we had a senator on — and this’ll be, go back 20 years, whether it was Tim, David, Tom, whoever was doing it. First of all you’d have them on for 25 minutes and you’d ask them about eight or nine different issues. Now we know that really the only thing that holds viewers is …
The news cycles.
The president, the vice president, not even the vice president.
Or whatever topic of that day, or that moment.
Right. But now, I drill down on one topic for eight or nine minutes, rather than trying to do six topics in 10 minutes.
Do you ever feel like — and I think that you could say this about all the Sunday shows — that you become a creature of whatever spin that they wanna do when you do that? Because they use all kinds of methods, Twitter and everything else.
I think that’s why I’ve changed to one-subject interviews for the most part. I might ask a second topic at the end, but it’s because if you just ask … If you do six topics in eight minutes, all you’ve done is given them time to do their … All they have to do is a talking point.
Yeah. Well, it’s the twitchy thing. That’s what I think has happened with a lot of it is … The twitchiness of the internet has invaded everything.
Right, and I think that’s where there’s the mistake. Look, I feel I like the show better when it’s one topic, two different points of view.
When you look at how people are getting their information, what do you look at? I mean, you’re obviously deep into television and your daily show, and you guys have newsletters and things like that, but what do you look at and you wonder where it’s happening? Because I always think, “What’s the next thing?” Constantly, I’m always thinking …
I’m always worried about the next thing.
Yeah, and I think about it, and I actually study it. You mentioned Snapchat when we were talking earlier. Where do you imagine it going? How do you perceive political information? Because we’ll get into President Trump, his use of Twitter and things like that, but …
So, it was interesting. Somebody sent me a quote of myself.
Oh, what did you say?
About two years ago. Apparently I said — and I do remember thinking this, I’m glad I said it somewhere — I said, “You know, some presidential candidate is going to realize that the best way to cut through is not to try to pick and choose your media, but just do it all, and be on the record all the time.” Don’t try to control it.
Yeah, the controlled, to control …
And that’s what Donald Trump did. Donald Trump was essentially, during the campaign, on the record constantly. Sometimes via his own Twitter feed, sometimes via his own rallies. Certainly, any reporter could stop him and he would … And I saw that as, maybe it would be a positive.
I still think there are plenty of politicians who have learned the wrong lesson from Trump. Because they’re still not doing that, they’re not saying to themselves, “I’m just gonna be on the record all the time, and if it offends some people, it offends some people, let’s go! Because I am who I am.”
So, the one thing I’m worried about is, I’ve been watching what’s happening in sports. A lot of sports leagues have allowed their own teams to hire their own reporters. It’s a huge problem in Washington, for instance, the Washington Redskins don’t give information to the Washington Post beat writers anymore.
Oh. Why would they?
They only give them … On like injuries and things like that, to their own Washingtonredskins.com reporter. I was concerned that political campaigns would start doing that, they’d hire their own … And in some ways they have, right? They’re trying to create their own television. Josh Earnest hosted his own Sunday show from the point of view of the White House.
Right, Trump has tried it in various …
I’m still semi-concerned, because you now see openly mega-donors deciding they wanna buy publications. Well, they’re gonna buy publications and make them house organs for a politician. Now, what’s ironic here is that this is actually back to the future for American media. This was the 19th century. Do you know who the Blair house is named after? Who Blair was? Blair was a newspaper publisher in Tennessee, he was Andrew Jackson’s favorite newspaper guy.
Ah, and so he just called …
Yeah, I mean the irony is, this is not a new phenomenon.
Well, a lot of these newspapers did the bidding, come on, I just saw the Post, there was that whole concept of what Bradley and Kennedy and the … You know, you were willing house organs.
All of that stuff! Yeah! And I just worry we’re about to go down the house organ front again.
Right, because they haven’t done that, they haven’t needed to do that because Trump gets so much …
Well, he has one! And it is striking what Fox has done.
Oh, well, we’ll get to that.
It’s striking in that … I can’t believe I’m about to say what I’m about to say, but Roger Ailes ran a more journalistically honest organization.
Because they’re not quite …
He was more … It seemed. It’s just different. I don’t think Ailes would be doing what they’re doing. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.
Probably not, that’s true.
We’re here with Chuck Todd and he’s saying a lot of fascinating things about politics. When we get back we’re gonna talk about what he just said about Roger Ailes, and also the Trump administration and its use of technology, we’re gonna focus on technology but where it’s all going, when we get back, on Recode Decode.
We’re here with Chuck Todd, NBC’s “Meet the Press” guru? I don’t know, are you the head of political …
My technical title is, I’m the moderator and managing editor. And I’m also the political director for NBC News.
Right, and you do a daily show.
We do a daily cable show.
And then you do all kinds of other things, and travel around and talk to me, things like that.
Well, you were talking about the idea of “Meet the Press” as a bigger idea, but you can’t not do that, now. Like, you have to think about your brand, and I hate to use the word “brand,” but you know what I mean? You’re thinking about it in lots of ways, the way the Trump administration has done that. They see lots of outlets for whatever they’re doing. You talked about sort of … Fox being the news organ, and I absolutely agree with that. Trump talked about doing his own, had he not been president, and a lot of conservatives are talking about that.
Can you sort of give me the lay of the land when you think about what has influence? Let’s start with Twitter. I know you talked about this a whole bunch, but I find Trump’s use of Twitter … You know Obama was supposed to be the digital president, but he wasn’t.
It’s the guy who probably has never sent an email, that is. How about that?
No, absolutely, and who’s hostile to tech, which was interesting because now all the Democrats and the Obama people, there was just a report yesterday and I was sort of giving the guy who wrote it a hard time, I was like, “So you did obsequious sucking-up to the tech industry, and now you’re sanctimoniously attacking it.” It’s sort of like … You can stop now. But they did nothing to get in the way of all these abuses.
They did the same thing that they did to the oil barons back at the turn of the century. Politicians never change.
No, this was fascinating because they were so embracing of tech, when in fact it’s the Trump administration who uses it beautifully and has been benefiting from it in a lot of ways. Can you talk about how they’re disseminating information? You can add Fox News in, but I think it’s just pure using the communication tools.
What I noticed about President Trump’s Twitter feed is how it is basically … how it works in the echo chamber. I mean, what I would say is that their strategy seems to be giving material for their supporters to amplify their message, that that’s what they do, right? So the president may toy with a conspiracy theory about the FBI as he will do in a tweet, or something like that. That, in turn, allows his supporters to then go deep on …
Whatever. Typically …
“I’m gonna take these three facts and create a conclusion.” Or, “I have a conclusion, and I’m gonna find disparate facts that prove my conclusion.” And it’s sort of like he sends the bat-signal, and that’s what has been impressive about it. It’s very unified. And what’s amazing to me is how often and where I see it. Like we’ll have a poll, and one of the things we’ll do is we’ll ask people to tell us things in their own words. His supporters use his words.
A hundred percent.
They use his phrases, you see it in the tweets, you see it in the emails that I’ll get. It is amazing to get 31 percent of the country on the same message. It is not just in topics, it’s in language, it’s in tone, it’s in all of it.
In whatever topic, I mean we could go on a …
It doesn’t matter if it’s about Mueller, DACA, the tax bill. It is his version of the messaging, not a different point of view supporting the same outcome. Not a different way of getting that, it is the same!
Why don’t others use it? It’s really interesting, you know I called him the genius troll of all time, because it really is quite effective, you’re absolutely right. And we can talk about topic after topic … It’s all the same!
It’s all the same! The tactic is the same.
And the reaction from the press is all the … Like pearl-clutching? Like, “I can’t believe he did this!” I’m like, “He did it yesterday, he did it the day before.”
Right, I’ve run out of adjectives.
And it’s obviously … They try to say distraction, but no, it’s a political strategy. I said, “It’s not a distraction, it’s how you govern in this way, whether you like it or not.”
Well, and it’s also how he’s wired.
What’s interesting is that he happened to be wired for Twitter, and for the 21st century news consumption brain, before that existed. He said himself in one of those books that he had ghost-written, that he likes to start his day without a schedule. He likes to react.
I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know Donald Trump in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. This part of him hasn’t changed. He likes to have eight or nine different things to do in a given day. Eight or nine different things that he’s working on in a given day, and he moves through them all the time. So he was brilliantly made for Twitter. He had a mind that was essentially melded with how Twitter functions.
Do you think it’s successful?
Well, define successful. He’s the most unpopular president in a first term. It depends on your definition of success. He’s there, so it got him there.
Right, he’s certainly passed certain bills that are …
But to me, he’s not successful until he gets Republicans to do something they’ve never wanted to do. So far, his accomplishments are essentially generic conservative accomplishments.
Supreme court …
Meaning Marco Rubio, Mike Pence, President Cruz, all of them would have pursued these same things.
With half the noise.
Correct. Or even pursued the same outcomes, maybe via a different strategy. When he gets the Republican party to cancel NAFTA, then I’m gonna be impressed. When he gets the Republican party to no longer be the party of free trade … Permanently … Y’know, then I will say, “Wow! Okay, he truly is a successful leader.” Because he changed a party’s mind and direction on all this stuff.
Are these ways of communications, these internet … Because they don’t just use Twitter, they use all kinds, like lots and lots of different ways to do it.
They are like fanatics about Reddit. It’s very interesting. But what’s interesting to me, though, is that they’re very concentrated only on … They’re not interested in persuasion. They’re only interested in message reinforcement.
Reinforcement and brute-force messaging.
Yeah, I think if we dump the idea of persuasion in American politics, we’re gonna doom the democracy. But there are a lot of political strategists, left and right, who believe that there’s no such thing as a persuadable voter.
That you can’t change minds … Anymore.
Meaning the only thing you are persuading voters to do is to vote or not vote. You are not persuading them from left or right.
As your father and your …
Yes, except, my father never voted straight ticket.
Right, because he could be persuaded.
My mother never voted straight ticket. Now, my parents canceled each other’s vote out and talked about it all the time.
Do you blame tech for that? Or just that it’s a natural extension of humanity?
Oh no, no, this polarization … Tech is a tool that has made it easier, has accelerated this. But this has been a strategy … Look, I bring up Roger Ailes because Roger Ailes created this culture of … So he comes out of Nixon, and if you look at it, basically the whole idea of media bias, which is in some ways …
Started with Nixon. He just did it badly.
No, this media bias argument — the modern era version of it, okay — began with Watergate.
Oh, before that. Spiro Agnew …
Spiro Agnew, yeah, but basically it began with the Nixon administration.
Right, a hundred percent.
Really, actually, you could argue LBJ, right? He was angry at the media too because the media was too negative on Vietnam. But he actually respected the media. “Hey, if I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost the country.” Right?
But Ailes has been dining out on this tactic that conservatives should play the victim to media bias. I think media’s influence gets over-hyped. If the media is so influential, then how did Donald Trump become president? Not a single editorial board in the country said that he should be president, not a single editorial board in the country did, right, in a major market. So it has been an exploited tactic, and then he built an entire business model out of it with the whole fair and balanced wink and a nod deal. Now he’s been pursuing, he turned a political tactic for Republicans to win elections in the U.S. Senate in the ’70s and ’80s, and turned it into a media tactic. So then it cements it all in.
All tech has done is essentially we’ve layered this on a landscape that was already starting to polarize, starting to self-select, starting to fall into these silos. And then these tools that the tech community came up with just put it on speed.
Right, so where do you imagine it going from? Because one of the things that’s happened is, it’s not just Trump that’s doing it. And by the way, the Democrats are just awful at it. Just awful. I have yet to see a good Democrat using social media in any way that’s effective, as far as I can tell, and I’m not clear why that is. It’s distasteful to them, or something.
My gut says social media has peaked as an influential player in politics, but it’s still going to be a tool, the way TV advertising is still a tool.
I see, that’s a really good point. Why peaked? Because people are saturated? Or?
It’s peaked in its ability to be unplanned, okay? And it’s ability to still surprise, and it’s ability to still be, “Oh, that’s clever.” Or, I guess my point is, there is no new way to use social media now for politics. Everybody knows all the different ways to do it. All the different ways to micro-target, all the different ways to use opinion influencers. All of that, everybody knows.
Has got the game of that.
So, something else is coming. The next thing to me is personalizing. Obviously it’s the personalization of politics. So right now we’ve personalized it to the point of your cable channels, your news feeds …
The next level is going to be, you and I seeing a Trump for president ad, but your ad is gonna address something that they found out that you’re fired up about, and the ad that I see … You know, in the same way, I think we’re going to start seeing even more personalized one on one …
So, AI helping you.
Some AI conversations. That’s going to be a tool that I think will be … My guess is, in 2020 that’ll be the one that somebody says, “Hey, check out what so-and-so’s trying to do here.” By 2024, everybody’s going to use it, and by 2028 we’re going to move on to something else.
So, who is good at that? Because again, I want to get back to the Democrats and Republicans. I think one of the things that you might be missing is that … I think one of the reasons that Donald Trump does do well is because he’s quite genuine, to himself. I think anyone who’s genuine on social media … It’s like Kim Kardashian, she’s like the biggest, and everyone makes fun of her, but she’s genuine to herself. So it’s not … It doesn’t feel like a trope, it doesn’t feel like …
Wanna know why the country’s not outraged that he had an affair with a porn star? Because Donald Trump has shared everything.
I’m never outraged by a porn star, but I live in San Francisco, so.
I say, I grew up in Miami in the ’80s, I saw a lot. But there is nothing that will chase people away than looking inauthentic. I guess why I believe social media has probably peaked, as far as a campaign tool, is that I think now it’s impossible to be authentic anymore on social media. Everybody assumes you’re being … Now people on social media, the users assume you’re being … “What’s your angle?” We’re all onto it. Whatever that “onto it” means, that’s why you ask me, it’s like … It’s not going away, it’s still a way for the president to express himself. It’s still a way if you use it more than just for press releases, you can break through, but I don’t see it as sort of a secret weapon anymore, or special sauce, it’s now just another …
Now it’s gonna be something that Google’s gonna put in your brain.
I know … I’m bingeing “Black Mirror” right now.
Oh, are you? Don’t. Stop yourself.
Oh god, Matt told me … My producer Matt Riviera’s here with me, yeah, Google glasses in your eyes? Oh my god.
Oh, you’re on that one. So you’re past the pig fucking and you’ve moved on to that.
I did the … It’s funny, that one …
It stayed with me forever.
You know what I give them credit for about “Black Mirror”? It starts, and it’s like “The Twilight Zone,” right? It starts with a totally ridiculous premise that you’re like, “Y’know? I actually see how that could happen!”
I think about “Network.” I just watched it the other day, I forced several people to watch it. If you watched that again, and remember the …
You know, I haven’t watched it since Trump’s been elected.
You need to watch it again because you’re like, “That was ridiculous,” and every single thing on it has been done. Every single thing times 50. And her attitude, Faye Dunaway, who is just brilliant in that movie. And his sort of feckless inability to stop it is really interesting. It’s a really interesting movie to look at, and you realize … Absolutely has far surpassed what that movie, and that was a satire, obviously.
So, we have six or seven minutes left. I wanna talk what we’re … Because this focuses on tech, tech has been at the center of the Russia bots, all kinds of things, and then there’s a lot of hostility to the press, they keep getting dragged up to Capitol Hill. Does that matter at all? I mean, do they have an influence in … It just was noted yesterday, Google, Amazon, Facebook have been spending enormous amounts of money lobbying. Obviously they’ve learned their lesson since the Microsoft trial many years ago. How do you look at …
I look at in the same way that you have any new sector that pops up … At some point they’re gonna get regulated. And look, the government hasn’t figure out yet how to regulate two industries well. One is tech, and the other is Wall Street. Because in some ways, the two work together. They’re not working together against the government, but … Washington is just always ready to regulate the last technology and the last financial trend rather than have the ability to prepare to regulate what’s coming.
Why is that? Because they’re ignorant.
Look, the biggest thing is how … You’ve met these individual members of Congress, some of them are extraordinarily bright people who know nothing about some of these industries. There’s one person, I always use Jared Polis as my great example.
Here’s Jared Polis when he gets elected, you know, the Blue Mountain Christmas card guy.
For those of you under the age of 30, you’re all wondering, “What the hell is Blue Mountain Christmas cards?” But it was like, when the internet first started, everybody thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great to send an electronic Christmas card?” And Blue Mountain was it! Everybody thought that was cool for about a year.
Do you wanna hear my claim to fame? His mother called me when they offered the $600 million. Pretending I wasn’t a reporter, I don’t know why, and she goes, “What do you think we should do?” And I’m like, “Thank you for that tip.” “What’s happening?” And I said, “Sell every fuckin’ thing and take the cash.” And they did it, they did it. It feels good about … it feels good about Jared Polis.
My point was, though, so Jared Polis decides to use his wealth to run for Congress. Do you think … Is he … The way Congress works, oh here’s somebody on the internet. So is he even remotely part of the policy discussions on how to regulate tech and how to do this?
No. The people that possibly have some explanation …
It would take them 20 years to get into a position to actually get to a point where you can influence policy!
And by then we’re gonna have things in our eyes like on “Black Mirror.”
Right, by the time he does get in a position, he no longer is in touch with the industry, doesn’t even know where it’s headed. So that’s the problem, and the smart tech folks are gonna start to prepare for the regulation and start self-regulating.
What does that look like, the regulation? What do you imagine?
To me it should be the FCC. Look, use the infrastructure we have, I always believe, don’t start a new agency. In fact, if I could run the federal government, I would make every agency sunset after 25 years and then you have to reprove and restart. Every 25 years, I don’t care what the agency is. Because it’s the only way to modernize. It’s the only way to make sure that agency doesn’t fall behind. It’s one of those things that, I’ll say it, people will think about it for a minute, and then it’ll never happen because there’s always an entrenched interest to protect this. But if you really want a government to work well and be nimble, you’d constantly do creative …
Well, tech does that on its own, let things die. Things die in Microsoft or AOL.
That’s right. That’s what government should do, in some ways. Anyway, so you know what I’d be doing? I’d be doing what Jeff Bezos is doing. Buying the Washington Post, thinking about moving my headquarters to another city, proving that I’m a good corporate citizen … I will say this, I think Amazon has managed this better than any of the other tech giants. They have figured out …
He’s an adult, that’s why.
That’s exactly right. And, let me plug Jeff for one other thing. I’ve never met him, but he went to the same high school as my dad in Miami, he went to the rival high school that I went to in Miami, so … Dade County Public Schools produced Jeff Bezos.
Yeah, he started as an adult in this business.
Yeah, it does.
I am fascinated by where Amazon is gonna pick. I think it’s pretty obvious where they’re coming, when you’re at the final 20 cities and three of them are in one market. I think he has pretty much said where this is coming. The question is: Maryland or Virginia?
Right, and he has a lovely house here.
I wished he picks Pittsburgh or St. Louis, personally.
Me too, Pittsburgh was my pick.
Well now, he eliminated St. Louis. I wanted St. Louis, only because I think it’s important for tech to make inroads in Red America. St. Louis is the biggest city that is a gateway to Red America. Pittsburgh’s not even, anymore. St. Louis isn’t Detroit yet, but if we’re not careful it could be. And look, there was a time when St. Louis was the fourth-most important city in this country.
Well, a lot of the techies are talking about doing their little tours of like meet the people kind of thing. It’s really insulting.
It is. I have to say when Mark Zuckerberg went on that tour of Iowa and he posted about a truck stop and the showers, I’m like, really dude? You have never been to a truck stop? Your parents never … You’ve never been on one road trip? You’ve never been to the interstate rest stops?
No. He’s not the …
It’s stories like that that actually hurt tech.
A hundred percent.
Because, you are not … You have no idea what the hell’s happening in America!
Yeah, they seem to step in it all the time. They really do.
Look, it was well-intentioned. It was the right idea, poorly executed.
May I just say, he’s an extraordinarily earnest person. He really means it when he …
He does, it just was poorly executed. And you know what happens with these billionaires? And too many political consultants? And we can say this. Is that they’re so enamored with the paycheck they’re getting that they don’t give them good advice. They just … I don’t think these billionaires realize that most of these political people they’ve hired …
Oh, they’re crawling all over them.
Right, they’re telling them what they wanna hear because they want to keep their damn contract.
Let me finish up by talking about tech people running for office. Do you see that happening? Do you imagine? I mean, everyone’s focused on Oprah and all the others, but I’m not even gonna go there.
I mean look, why wouldn’t they? I assume a whole bunch of tech people … They already are running.
Well, I don’t see any of them as presidential material yet. Bezos intrigues me if he wanted to. I would say this: In the 1980s when the country was looking for an outsider businessman, the first person …
No, no. It was Lee Iacocca, remember?
Oh, right sure, I remember, yeah.
The dream candidate in the ’80s, the dream outsider candidate was always Lee Iacocca. And Ross Perot, we were sort of enamored, again we went into the business world. If you think about our different sectors in life, politicians are not well thought of. Even the military is less well thought of than it was, as far as the generals are concerned, sort of leadership in the military. The tech business, Wall Street is not respected anymore, bankers. Jamie Dimon, I … Jamie Dimon for president? Are you kidding me?
I didn’t hear that one.
Jamie would laugh. He knows that they’re pariahs. The tech industry is the one place that has trust in different pockets of America, and it produces something tangible. I think Steve Jobs had enough, like … To me, the personalities that are there now, none of them feel big enough to look like they could … You have to have some charisma to be president.
Could you name one? Someone? Bezos …
Bezos is interesting to me. Sheryl Sandberg is interesting to me. Like, Tim Cook clearly doesn’t want to. I don’t count Mark Cuban as tech anymore.
He made all his money from tech, but yes.
He did, but I don’t see him in that space. He clearly wants to.
I don’t know. I know him pretty well, I don’t think he’s playing games with all of you people.
Put it this way, I think he plays games with a lot of reporters.
I knew him when he was not rich, so, it’s his tricks. He’s enjoying himself.
Oh well, that’s good. Look, he was at the Axios one-year anniversary party and I heard … I wasn’t there.
He was, I heard.
I said, “Oh, are the Mavericks in town?” And like, no, he flew in just for that. He wants to be a player in this town, there’s no doubt about it
He does. You know what he’s …this new health care thing, which is interesting. He’s so highly intelligent on lots of things, and his clown thing is not what he’s like.
Oh, I’m a huge personal fan of him.
I find talking to him most enjoyable.
By the way, the clown thing is a business, is a marketing tool for the Dallas Maverick fan base.
Absolutely, I think so people don’t take him seriously.
I want my sports owners to be Mark Cuban. I want my owners … I love that!
We’re gonna end on that, I’m gonna let you talk about this sports thing.
That, to me, is Mark Cuban’s authenticity.
Why didn’t you go into sports? That’s my last question for you.
I did. For a little while.
In fact, at The Hotline we started a sports business Hotline. We called it “Sports Business Daily.” It is now a $20 million business owned by Hearst, down in Charlotte.
Wow. Sports business.
But the editor in chief is somebody I hired back in the day, he’s still there. He came to town the other day when we visited and it’s thriving. It’s basically Hotline for the sports business world, you know, for the leagues. It was one of those things, the sports world didn’t have the, “What’s going on with this meteorite?” Think about it, stadiums, there’s a whole bunch of stuff, and they didn’t know they needed something every day until we started making something for them every day and they’re like “Holy cow!”
Regrets? That you didn’t do sports?
Oh, no, no. I hated it. You know what happened? I found out sports is my hobby, politics is my passion.
I miss politics, and then I find myself going to games and working. And I’m like that. Meaning I’d go to the Camden Yards and I’d look at the signage. “Oh, is this a Miller stadium or a Bud stadium?”
You didn’t enjoy it.
I started to know those stupid facts and I said, “Why do I care whether it’s Pepsi or Coke at this stadium? Whether this team is a Nike team or a …” At the time, Reebok was their cheap competitor. I literally said, “Ugh, I miss politics.” The thing is, politics is the personalities, it’s the human side …
So you’re not exhausted yet, by all of this? You must be exhausted!
Well, no I … Look, I’m a pearl-clutcher every once in a while. I’ll admit to that. I do worry about the damage we’re doing to the perception of the press in politics. I think this is a generational damage.
Really. I think we get played every single day.
I think the press gets played every single day.
I have a lot of faith in the millennial generation to fix all this. I think they’re our greatest generation. They kinda have to be. We gotta hope.
I’m going with Gen Z, myself.
Well, my daughter’s Gen Z, so I hope so.
I was talking to my son who’s 12 or 13 and I was saying “The Bannon book” this, that, “Sloppy Steve,” and he literally says to me, “Mom, that’s really not the point. The insider politics, the White House, it’s the judgeships.” And I was like, “Yeah, but Sloppy Steve!”
My daughter’s 13. My daughter does the same thing, she rolls her eyes at the name-calling and says, “Aw, that’s stupid,” Look, how we’re covering Trump is going to have an impact on our kids and how they consume news and politics.
Now my biggest fear with millennials has been, they so disdain politics that they won’t run.
Yeah, or vote.
And they’re not coming here. The best and the brightest don’t come to Washington anymore. We still want some of them here. I want some of them to go to Silicon Valley, but I’d still like to see a few of them come here, and they’re not right now.
All right, right now are there any Chuck Todds sitting as an eighth grader somewhere … You need to get up and not be cynical!
Yes, the minute I get too cynical I gotta quit.
So not yet. So how long are you here for? The whole time.
I don’t think there’s such things as 20- and 30-year runs in television.
All right, so seven years?
Like I said, David Bradley and the seven-year runs? I’m on my second seven-year run. I’ll talk to you in five years.
All right, last question. Anything else? What would you like to do if you could put yourself anywhere else?
If I could put myself anywhere?
In any job?
Athletic director for the University of Miami. You laugh.
I do, I’m laughing. I’m not laughing with you, I’m laughing at you.
I know, look, I wanna save NCAA sports.
College sports needs to be saved. I’d, you know.
Everybody, Chuck Todd is ready to do it.
Chuck, this has been a delight talking to you. It’s an unusual conversation.
I hope I still have a career.
You still have a career, don’t worry, you didn’t insult your bosses at NBC, I do that for you.
Good luck with that.
Andy Lack … Give Chuck a raise, Andy! Come on!
Recode – All Go to Source
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